The carcass of a rare beaked whale will be a "treasure chest" of information for scientists, after it was recovered in Hana this week.
The animal swam into Hamoa Bay on Monday, clearly struggling, and rescuers quickly mobilized to transport it to the University of Hawaii-Hilo's new dolphin and small whale hospital. But the whale died on the beach just a few minutes after it was first reported.
The 1,000-pound body was flown to Honolulu by Aloha Air Cargo on Tuesday afternoon, where a necropsy and other studies could reveal new secrets about a little-known species, according to David Schofield, the marine mammal response network coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
A young beaked whale, which swam into Hamoa Bay and died Monday, was photographed by the Marine Mammal Response Team led by Nicole Davis a few hours later. Cookiecutter sharks had bitten chunks out of the 12-foot animal.
NOAA Fisheries photo
Schofield had not yet seen the whale, except in photographs. He had prepared to fly to Hana with a veterinarian when the call first came in.
The photos revealed a 12-foot juvenile that looked like either a Cuvier's beaked whale or a Blainville's beaked whale. An autopsy will reveal which. The head also will be put through a CT scanner.
Beaked whales are so rare and spend most of their time so far offshore that scientists know little about them. For many decades no one had seen a live one, only bones washed up on beaches. Whale researcher Robin Baird of Cascadia Research has been heading a yearslong attempt to find, photograph and track beaked whales around Hawaii. But a recently dead example to study is a rare opportunity, Schofield said.
Nicole Davis, the Maui head of the Marine Mammal Response Network, immediately headed for Hana, with team members Joe McDonald and Burt Bottoms. Once there, with help from the community and Maui police, they collected the whale.
Kenny Harmon brought a backhoe and, with the assistance of Kaimana Estrella, loaded up the whale.
Before it was removed, there was a Hawaiian blessing.
Schofield said that the body had many fresh marks from cookiecutter sharks, which led him to suspect that the whale "may have been ill for some time." Cookiecutter sharks take occasional bites out of healthy whales, but the number on this whale was unusual, concentrated on its belly.
Had the whale had more life in it, Schofield would have tried to stabilize it long enough to get it to Hilo for treatment.
After an autopsy, the remains will be sent to Hawaii Pacific University, which is the archive for whales from Hawaii and American Pacific territories. Since all marine mammals are protected, only organizations with National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration permits are allowed to keep whales, even dead ones.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.